Viz Media is releasing several volume ones and complete collections this month. This week we get Haruhisa Nakata’s Levius, collecting the entirety of the steampunk action manga. The titular protagonist competes in martial arts brawls for mechanically altered fighters. It’s a dangerous profession, and as the story progresses we learn about Levius’s tragic past involving terrorist forces that are resurging in the present. There’s lore and violence aplenty, but is the manga good?
One of the most striking aspects of Levius is its frequent use of blurs and sketchy line-work. The contrasts in haziness and clarity between the foregrounds and backgrounds are usually quite pronounced, adding an eerie feeling to the events. The visuals match the story effectively as Levius, with the burden of his trauma, is moving through the world with a distorted focus that primarily hones in on his arena fighting goals. The blurry aesthetic also helps add an unnerving element to the setting. The lore we get about this world’s war-heavy past sells the fact that the survivors have suffered heavy losses. As a result the almost ghostly art reflects both physical reality and the overall cultural zeitgeist.
With that said, there are times when the art gets sketchy to the point where nothing feels grounded and the action becomes indecipherable. Given how much of this volume is devoted to the martial arts matches, that’s a big problem. No one could say that the brawls here lack energy, but the sketchiness is often so extreme that it’s difficult to understand much beyond the general direction of impacts.
On the plus side the art definitely has its more effective aspects. Besides the eerie tone, Nakata also impresses with the sheer amount of detail in some of the up-close shots. There are a ton of panels that hone in on characters’ eyes, with a lot of attention paid to sheens of light flickering across them as well as to the eyelashes and eyebrows. The main antagonist, Dr. Clown Jack Pudding, also has a neat design. It incorporates elements of classic clown aesthetic like the giant nose without looking too ridiculous and while still fitting in with the overall look of the story. There’s also some cool body horror that I won’t describe due to its spoiler-heavy context.
Writing-wise, Levius is at its best in its first third or so. The opening chapters depict Levius’s youth before he became a fighter. We get introduced to several of his family members, and their early interactions are very well-written. Levius moves in with his uncle Zack, and Nakata does a great job depicting their awkward transitional period of butting heads and getting used to each other’s company. These chapters lay the groundwork for both characters’ motivations and emotional states, giving us a great sense of what’s at stake early on. Some of Levius’s fellow fighters also stand out for having well-developed personalities that naturally lend themselves to generating conflict with him.
Unfortunately the writing also has some sizable issues. Most notably, the ending. It’s just weak on multiple levels The pacing gets a bit rushed and the character arcs don’t resolve in very satisfying ways. To be fair there’s a sequel series, but taken solely on its own Levius loses a lot of its… ahem… steam… in the second half. This is due partially to the previously mentioned lack of visual clarity, as well as to how much exposition gets shoehorned in just before it becomes relevant.
Overall, Levius is a decent read. The series has an eerie, hazy aesthetic that matches the mood and there’s some great character work in the first half. Unfortunately there are significant clarity and pacing issues holding the story back. Nonetheless, as a re-release this edition is notably good. The paper quality and cover design is very well-done. If you’re already a fan of the series or if the concept of a steampunk brawling manga sounds appealing to you then this release is worth checking out.